Friday, July 29, 2011

'Israeli Summer' Follows 'Arab Spring'

Young people are demanding affordable housing
In years to come, the entry of the Israeli working class into independent action may well be seen as a pivotal moment in world history. While the 'Arab Spring' has seen governments toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, another key US ally now finds itself confronted by its masses - and the event raises the objective possibility of class alliances stretching across Egypt, into Israel, and even into what remains of Palestine.

Rent protests began two weeks ago, in response to an average 27% rise in rents over the last three years - far in excess of wage rises. Protest camps have been erected throughout the country - from the salubrious Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard to cheaper but just as unaffordable areas in Jerusalem and at least twenty-five towns.

In the eighteen years since the Oslo Accords with then Palestinian Liberation Organisation head Yasser Arafat, Israel's government has generally encouraged new settlement in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, rather than building affordable housing within the official borders of Israel. Over the last decade, public housing accounted for only 3% of new builds in Tel Aviv. A housing bubble has inflated, pushing mortgages way beyond the means of many young Israelis. As a result, rent demands have also spiraled out of reach.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu cut short his trip to Poland, declared the protest "legitimate" and promised reform - fifty thousand new housing units would become available within eighteen months, including ten thousand units for students. But this was immediately rejected by many of the demonstrators, who have continued to set up tent camps and take more direct action, such as blocking roads and the occupying the roof of the Israeli stock exchange.

As the Jerusalem Post has noted, housing is just a “drop in the sea of injustices”, which also includes rising food prices, and general inflation in relation to the minimum wage. Many Israelis struggle to survive on their meagre incomes, and this uprising was the inevitable consequence of a polarised society, especially under conditions where the Histadrut trade union confederation has called off several general strikes in recent months.

Parents protest:"who cares about missiles when there isn't enough money for diapers?"
There are stark wealth disparities between ethnicities within the Israeli working class. Ashkenazi Jews of relatively recent European origin typically make 40% more than Mizrahi Jews with longstanding Middle Eastern and North African heritage. Poorer yet are urban Palestinians within Israeli borders, along with the Bedouin tribes and around half a million first generation migrants from around the world. Still, all ethnic backgrounds are so far well represented in the new movement, proving that economic class is the principle social division, on which all others rest.

Terrified of this new independent force in Israeli politics, Histadrut have called for a one day general strike on 1st August. However - like their equivalents in all nations - they will be seeking to reimpose their death grip on those who would resist the capitalist state. Instead of being corralled by Histadrut, Israelis must organise their own rank-and-file committees in workplaces, neighbourhoods and occupied city squares, and reach out to their class brothers and sisters across the region and the world.

For at least ten years, pro-Palestinian activists have called for an economic blockade of Israel, in an attempt to destroy the Zionist apartheid system. I hope that many will now support the demands of Israelis also struggling to meet their basic material needs, because where boycotts have failed, class-based solidarity can succeed. Twelve months ago I argued this in the pages of The Commune, in opposition to a comrade who had argued for a boycott:
"The Israeli working class is yet to make an independent intervention into the economy, but when it does, we must unhesitatingly act in solidarity with it, no matter what attitudes individuals take to the occupation of Palestine. Active solidarity is the only way that racist ideologies will be broken down, because it’s the only force that will show them up for what they are – tools of the ruling class. Though the slogan may sometimes seem trite, only when workers of all nations unite will we be able to transcend the barbaric horror of capitalism."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Morrissey's Big Mouth Strikes Yet Again

Morrissey says he's not racist, but...
In a way it's just as well that 'Morrissey' and 'controversy' almost rhyme, because those words have long swirled around each other, like a pair of butterflies in a field. He once told an interviewer that “I've never intended to be controversial but it's very easy to be controversial in pop music because nobody ever is”, but there's far more to it than that.

The Mancunian began his career as a somewhat reluctant oppositional figure, who was anti-establishment just because he refused to conform to the norms of the day. Nowadays, his controversy has almost become an act - the only thing he can think of doing to make the headlines.

Morrissey's controversy can be divided into quite a few sections. Firstly, there was Morrissey just being Morrissey in the early to mid-eighties. A working class poet with a Wildean talent for the one-liner, he showed a generation of adolescent boys that it was alright to read books, ride bikes and prance about with gladioli. Though Morrissey was far too self-deprecating to be 'proud' of who he was, he was still something of a trailblazer. For example, at a time when the Thatcher government was seemingly at war with homosexuality - particularly over Section 28 - Morrissey's wistful lyrics hinted that love of any kind was worth yearning after.

Then there's the anti-monarchy controversy. Quite a few Morrissey lyrics make fun of the royal family, most conspicuously in The Queen Is Dead, with its "Dear Charles, don't you ever crave/To appear on the front of the Daily Mail/Dressed in your mother's bridal veil?", and its "Her Very Lowness with a head in a sling. I'm truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing".

Yet despite this, and the fact that he is descended from Irish immigrants, Morrissey has always had an ambiguous relationship with 'Englishness', and a certain pre-occupation with 'what it means to be English?' This has led him down some very dodgy paths, and lost him more than a few fans. Songs such as Bengali In Platforms, Asian Rut and The National Front Disco did little to dispel accusations of racism, and neither have the occasions when he has draped himself in the Union Jack, or worn the English flag. In more recent years he has sought to make amends, signing the Unite Against Fascism founding statement and financially supporting Love Music Hate Racism, when a withdrawal of sponsorship for a Victoria Park gig left the organisation struggling to make ends meet. On 2004's Irish Blood, English Heart, he longed for the day when he would be "standing by the flag not feeling shameful/Racist or partial".

That song and that album also showed Morrissey's disgust with the invasion of Iraq, and the reigns of George Bush in the USA and Tony Blair in the UK. But now a resident of Los Angeles, he pulled his lyrical punches significantly, and the results were disappointing to say the least. America Is Not The World seemed critical of the nation's imperial and global hegemonic role, but apparently only because "the president is never black, female or gay". When Bush was succeeded by the even more right-wing but black Barack Obama, Morrissey was more than just taken in, going so far as to model a campaign T-shirt on stage.

Back when his music was good, Meat Is Murder led many to consider vegetarianism, with its evocative combination of lyrical challenges and heart-rending sound effects. These days, as his actual music gets increasingly turgid, Morrissey gets most of his headlines from making inflammatory pronouncements on animal welfare, which perhaps reached its apogee with last Sunday's statement that “We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead [sic]. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried shit every day.”

Whereas Morrissey was once concerned with all that is human, he now seems to have withdrawn into a materially comfortable middle age, and his music has suffered for it. The only way for such a boring man to remain in the public eye is to make provocative claims about the suffering of animals. Though he once labelled the Chinese "a subspecies" for their treatment of animals, we will almost certainly wait in vain for his position on China's sweatshops - where humans suffer agonies, or even what life is like for ordinary people back in Manchester. There's being controversial, and then there's being relevant to the lives of those who might want to listen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Commune Now as Free as We All Must Be

The new edition of The Commune is a big step forward for the group, as we continue to strive for "workers' self-management and communism from below". The paper will now be distributed free, and in much larger numbers than before.

The editorial focuses on the Murdoch 'hackgate' scandal, but maintains that "the problem is not only that the wealthy control the media and so use it to promote their own economic interests", but also that "the mass media is not a participatory, collective exchange of ideas". To that end, The Commune "aims to be understandable but also a serious, in-depth engagement between reader and writer".

As the US and UK officially recognise the so-called 'Transitional' authority, Joe Thorne looks at what NATO is doing in Libya. Meanwhile David Broder examines the SWP's 'Marxism' event, and asks how the libertarian left should engage with rank and file comrades in the 'left parties'.

There are also four write-ups of the 30th June public sector strikes, a look at an anti-cuts struggle at a college, and proof that direct action really can get the goods.

All this and more is available for PDF download here, as well as from radical bookshops, social centres, and by emailing uncaptivemindsATgmail.com.

Why George Osbourne Is Happy With 'Plan A'

The 'cake' may be bigger, but the ruling class has the knife
Yesterday, it was announced that the UK's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth had slowed from 0.5% in the first quarter of 2011 to 0.2% in the second quarter. Immediately, my Twitter timeline exploded with various 'left' types taking the opportunity to lay into Chancellor George Osborne, and his claims that the latest figure was "positive news". But what is GDP anyway, and what significance does it have for the working class - the immense and overwhelming majority of our society?

To put it as simply as possible, a country's GDP is the total value of its economy over a time period. There are a number of controversies associated with this measure (see the Wikipedia entry for some), but the media generally tells us that high GDP growth is a good thing, and low growth is a bad thing. When GDP grows by a large amount - as it generally did during the Blair years for example - this is seen as proof that the country's 'economic cake' is getting bigger. When GDP actually shrinks - like at the start of the financial crisis - the cake gets smaller and the economy is said to be in recession.

That's all fine and dandy, but to extend the cake metaphor, it's the working class who makes the cake, and the ruling class who has the knife. For the last thirty-five years, it's been an obsessive concern of each successive government to make sure the already 'fat cats' get an even bigger slice of GDP. This obsession has reached insane levels since the onset of the last recession.

As a recent High Pay Commission report put it:
"The UK’s top earners are taking a bigger slice than ever of the national income. Between 1949 and 1979, the share of income going to the top 0.1% of earners dropped from 3.5% to 1.3%. Today the top 0.1% of earners takes home as big a percentage of the national income as they did in the 1940s. If current trends continue, by 2025 the top 0.1% of earners will take 10% of the national income and by 2030 we will have gone back to levels of inequality not seen since Victorian England.”
It must be reiterated that the top 0.1% of earners create no wealth at all, but they hold a huge percentage of it. It is for that elite that Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and now Cameron have exclusively governed.

But maybe we wouldn't care about inequality, so long as we were getting wealthier. The problem is we're not. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the average wage has increased by about 2% per annum since the UK officially came out of recession two years ago. Even that figure is skewed by much higher rises at the top, but once you factor in inflation at 5%, the average worker is about three pence in the pound worse off this year than last. 'Personal inflation' rates increase as incomes go down, so poorer paid workers are even worse off relatively.

Bearing this all in mind, we can see that any increase in the overall economy cake is almost irrelevant, when most of us are shocked by the price of bread. But what about those calling for measures to stimulate the economy, for a 'Plan B'?

Global elites are competing to smash 'their' working classes
The best way to temporarily stimulate the economy would be to seize the assets of the richest, and distribute them amongst the rest of us. But we can be sure the politicians won't do that - they are the servants of the financial ruling class, and want to run the economy in their interests, so that their own economic worth will increase when they retire (just look at Blair, for the best example). Instead, they seize the assets of the poorest, slashing government spending in a kind of inverse Keynesianism.

The politicians are not stupid. They understand that less money in the pockets of the general public will mean less consumer spending, and a slowing or shrinking economy. However, they recognise that the current financial crisis provides them with a once in a lifetime opportunity to send working class living standards back to pre-war levels. Around the world, government after government is making "savage cuts", to borrow the Deputy PM's phrase - Greece, Italy, Portugal and the USA are just the most current. When some finance minister or other so much as pauses for thought, the credit ratings agencies and bond traders are immediately on his or her back, whispering a none-too-subtle "do it" in their ear. Blinded by the need for short-term profit, they can not or will not see that this is the road to a new great depression.

Even if Ed Miliband was Prime Minister tomorrow, with Ed Balls as his Chancellor, they would be picking up the scissorhands exactly where the current coalition let off. To do otherwise would be the end of their political careers, as they would have deeply angered their real constituency - Wall Street, the City of London, and its global equivalents.

If and when the global working class acts in our own interests, and seize knife, cake and bakery, we can all get enough cake. Until then, more and more of us will be working harder, and yet going hungry.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Political Context of the Norway Terror Attacks

Anders Behring Breivik took aim at those he falsely saw as "Marxists"
Many thousands of articles have been written on the subject of Anders Behring Breivik's terrorist attacks since they took place in Norway last Friday, yet few have seriously tried to examine their political context. This is unfortunate.

If - as ironically many in the corporate media reflexively suggested - the perpetrator had turned out to have been a Muslim man, the airwaves would be full of supposed 'experts' trying to trace his actions back to the Quran. As it is, Breivik is white, and describes himself as a "100% Christian", so he is labelled a "migrant hating monster" by the migrant hating Daily Mail, and even "insane" by his own lawyer. Breivik's crimes were undoubtedly monstrous, and were put into practice by a mind that could be labelled 'insane'. But such murderous impulses do not come to be 'randomly', so their causes must be found in the wider society.

The individual factors leading to Breivik's extreme right-wing political trajectory are yet to be pieced together, but Norwegian bourgeois politics - like bourgeois politics around the world - is shifting ever rightwards. Though liberals have long tended to view the oil-rich Scandinavian society as a model for a peaceful capitalism, financial and market forces are certainly making themselves felt in Norway, and the country has been far from immune to the effects of the financial crisis.

Norwegian PM Stoltenberg has modelled himself on Tony Blair
Current Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has modelled himself on the UK's most prominent 'centre-left' neo-liberal PM, Tony Blair. In his two terms, Stoltenberg has restricted welfare, privatised some formerly state-owned services, curbed immigration, and bailed out Norwegian bankers. Norway currently has troops helping to occupy Afghanistan, and Norwegian fighter jets are bombarding Libya, in the mission to overthrow replace Muammar Gaddafi with a dictatorship more favourable to the west. It is clear that Breivik saw Stoltenberg et al as being too tolerant of Islam, however, the 'mainstream' racist poisoning of public opinion that has always accompanied imperial adventures will have contributed to the intensity of Breivik's bigotry.

Another significant factor is Breivik's repeated use of the terms "Marxist" and "cultural Marxist". In his manifesto, Breivik identifies these supposed Marxists as being enemies of white Europeans, because their "political correctness" acts to dissolve traditional culture. Of course, Marxism has little to do with the decaying "political correctness" of the elite - instead basing its philosophy on the self-emancipation of the working class as a whole. Still, Breivik has - like many muddled extreme right-wingers - picked up the term and ran with it. His fascistic attack on those he saw as "Marxists" recalls the rhetoric that accompanied the Nazi conquest of Eastern Europe.

As Phil Dickens notes, it would be a mistake to overplay the links between Breivik and the American Tea Party or the English Defence League. That said, the existence of a Breivik in a relatively egalitarian country points to the potential existence of many more in countries such as the US and the UK. When conditions demand it - like in Greece and Egypt - the ruling class will not hesitate to use such forces against the working class. The existence of an openly racist extreme right-wing is yet another reason why we need an organised working class movement.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Anti-Fascist Prisoner Support UK

Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists:

A new website has been set up by an informal solidarity group formed of families, partners, friends and comrades in order to provide financial support for imprisoned anti-fascists. After being arrested, having property confiscated, losing jobs and being left on bail for two years, a group of anti-fascists have been sent to prison and they need our support.
Resisting fascism is important, and people that are persecuted by the state for resisting fascism should not be forgotten or ignored.

There are a number of ways to support these prisoners. You can organise sending letters, put on benefits (and attend benefits that are being put on) and you can donate money. As important as emotional support and acts of solidarity in letter writing are, it is still important for us to raise money to put into their prison bank accounts so they can get stamps, paper, tobacco, sweets, television and anything they need to make their time inside easier for them.

If you are able to help with this, please click on the donate button on the website. Its quick, it’s secure and every penny goes to supporting these prisoners.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Charlie Gilmour and Politically-Motivated Sentencing

Gilmour not harming anybody during last winter's student protests
Charlie Gilmour - the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour - was today sentenced to sixteen months in prison for an act of political dissent which injured no-one. But Gilmour's is just the latest in a string of heavy penalties imposed on protesters. Unmistakably, the aim of this sentencing - plus police repression of those they don't arrest on demonstrations - is to set a "deterrent" against protest itself.

Tactically, Gilmour's actions were misguided. Apparently under the influence of LSD and Valium, plus upset over an incident with his biological father, Gilmour climbed up the Cenotaph monument in Whitehall, and swung from a Union Jack. He was then involved with the group of students who confronted the car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla. Such behaviour could hardly have been calculated to provoke more outrage in the right wing press.

However, the fact remains that no-one was physically harmed by Charlie Gilmour that night. And yet he has lost his liberty for at least eight months, right at the time when he has graduated from university, and should have the opportunity to move on with his career.

Francis Fernie, before he harmed nobody by throwing sticks
Similarly, Francis Fernie was recently given a year inside for throwing two placard sticks at police following extreme provocation on the March 26th anti-cuts demonstration. The incident took place outside luxury shop Fortnum & Mason, as cops began a mass arrest, having gone back on their word not to arrest anybody if the protesters moved outside. The placards did not cause any injuries, and Judge Nicholas Price made it clear he was punishing Fernie for the actions of others not before the court. This is a clear abuse of his power, which makes a mockery of the legal system's supposedly liberal basis.

In January, Edward Woollard was sentenced to thirty-two months for dropping a fire extinguished from the roof of Millbank Tower during the brief student occupation of Tory HQ. His action was certainly foolish - there were hundreds of protesters below for a start - but again, no-one was harmed, and society would have been better served if no-one had been punished. Instead, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin declared that:

"If ever a case calls for a deterrent sentence, this is it. [emphasis added] I wish to stress, however, that this is not a case of making an example of you alone. Anyone who behaves in this way and comes before the courts must expect a long sentence of custody."

Edward Woollard harmed nobody when he dropped a heavy thing
It could be argued that other cases are far more deserving of a deterrent sentence, particularly those in which people - perhaps millions - have been physically or emotionally harmed. These are the crimes which our ruling class commits every day, be it incinerating Afghanis by remote control, hacking the mobiles of dead children, or cutting the social safety net which allows many British people to survive. These crimes go unpunished because the ruling class controls the legal system through its capitalist state, while the Gilmours, Fernies and Woollards are punished for precisely the same reason.

Gilmour, Fernie and Woollard all acted out of a kind of desperation, a desperation that produced individual responses to a problem that requires a collective solution. Ultimate political responsibility for their acts rests with the ruling class, and their hangers-on in the trade union bureaucracy, who have done their best to stifle and frustrate collective responses to the crisis.

There can be little doubt that ruling classes around the world are preparing for a massive confrontation with their working classes, and they will seek to sweep aside democratic aspirations in an effort to make the planet safe for the financial aristocrats. In answer, the working class must demand the release of all class struggle prisoners.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Saul Williams - Volcanic Sunlight

If I have to dance dance dance then it's not my revolution
Over the course of four albums, Saul Williams has established himself as a sort of David Bowie of underground hiphop, and indeed the concept of his previous effort echoed Bowie's 1972 release. But while the adjective 'chameleonic' suggests someone trying to blend in with the artistic background, Williams has always striven to swim against the tide. This time, however, he has taken his first misstep.

Amethyst Rock Star (2001) introduced us with a very 'mystical' Williams, but while I would normally avoid that kind of stuff like the plague, it was so outward-looking and non-hippyish that it was more than forgivable. Besides, he ultimately concluded that "Matter is fact/So spirit must be fiction/Science fiction/Art fiction/Meta fiction". As bling peaked in 2003, Williams took on the Bush administration with soaring radical polemics such as Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare) while lambasting the aspirations of gangsta rap and admitting that his car was seventeen years old. In 2007, he teamed up with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails for The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!, and produced what can only be discribed as industrial hiphop.

Damn! What rhymes with 'sunlight'?
In short, Williams has been the consummate artist - mixing and matching and totally unafraid of his critical reception, or whether people were ready for what he wanted to create. It could be said that by making what's basically a dance pop album he's done that again with Volcanic Sunlight. But more than that, he's consciously decided to let the vocals take a back seat, so the great buzzing intellect that previously gave us an explosion of ideas in every song has been virtually silenced.

There's no doubting that the music of Volcanic Sunlight is hugely listenable, but I can't remember a single amazing lyric after five listens, and Williams needs to be far more than a pop star (let's face it, he's still never going to chart high, no matter how danceable he gets). Hiphop - and the wider world - needed his previous works, but do we really need quite a catchy, funky, slightly African-tinged dance album in 2011?

It would be simplistic and much too harsh to say he has sold out, despite allowing Nike to use his List Of Demands in a commercial and his enthusiastic early support for Wall Street sock puppet Barack Obama. I dearly hope Williams is just marking time here, and waiting for the next major inspiration to send him spiraling off into frenetic creativity.

I know this is a short album review, but like Saul I have no more to say at the moment.

Marxism Versus Anarchism: Round 1871

This is what it looks like inside my brain...
With the Alliance for Workers' Liberty holding a couple of meetings where they debate various anarchists, people have been putting a spate of articles online, both reviewing the events and offering their own wider perspectives. As someone who tries to synthesise Marxism and anarchism - and who insists that they have far more in common than they have important differences - this has been quite interesting. However, if the AWL are to be called Marxists, then like Marx I have to say "ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste” (“what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist").

As ever, Phil Dickens at Truth, Reason and Liberty is first out of the blocks, and he posted a concise and fairly standard anarchist position when faced with self-styled Trotskyists or Stalinists. Anarchist FAQ author Iain McKay has contributed a lengthy and - he'll admit - quite rambling rundown of his London debate, at which an AWL-er allegedly warned that "if anarchists continue to talk like that after a revolution then you had better watch out"! Freedom In The 21st's version of the Liverpool debate covers much the same ground as Phil's piece, albeit with more detail, while the ever-thoughtful Cautiously Pessimistic prefers to take on the more established pseudo-Trots of the Socialist Workers Party.

Hopefully your reading of these articles will bring us closer to a united working class movement!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Could We Have An 'Anonymous' Revolution?

The leaderless nature of Anonymous makes it harder to attack than WikiLeaks
Officially there is no such organisation as Anonymous. It has no physical address, no membership fees, and naturally no membership list. And yet it does exist, as shifting as smoke, as hard to pin down as water. Simply put, Anonymous is just a non-hierarchical group of unidentified people who like to do things on the internet. But these people have started to do things of big significance for the global class struggle.

If we can speak of a 'founding' date for Anonymous, it is 2006, when anonymous individuals banded together to take down the website of white supremacist talkshow host Hal Turner, costing him thousands of dollars. In late 2007, Anonymous people played a role in the arrest of paedophile Chris Forcand, by keeping records of a honeytrap, in which Forcand typed such things as "i want to show you my cock but my son is here right now and we are going out to church. can i show you later when he is back home?" Another early target was the social networking site Habbo, although the motivations for this were less well defined. Many actions, such as YouTube porn day and - to a lesser extent - the war on Scientology, were largely undertaken "for the lulz" - mere interest value, and with apparently no greater political or social significance.

Anonymous has been greatly radicalised since the onset of the financial and economic crisis towards the end of the last decade. There is nothing surprising about this, as billions of people throughout the world have been compelled to examine the social roots of their individual situations in life. However, Anonymous started taking direct action against political targets long before people started occupying squares in major cities. When these real life events do occur, they now feed back into Anonymous online activities.

Anonymous solidarity played a part in the Egyptian revolution
Last December, Operation Avenge Assange was launched, after Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and the Swiss bank PostFinance stopped people donating to WikiLeaks using their services. Similarly, when suspected WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning was isolated at the Quantico Marine Corps Brig, Operation Bradical attacked the servers of the Marine Corps, while Operation Leakspin helped to sift through and publicise certain overlooked cables published by WikiLeaks.

During the recent Irish elections, the website of now governing party Fine Gael was hijacked, with the normal campaign pieces replaced with the Anonymous logo and the words "Nothing is safe, you put your faith in this political party and they take no measures to protect you. They offer you free speech yet they censor your voice. WAKE UP!" In January, while Tunisians were on the streets demanding the exit of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Anonymous took down eight Tunisian government websites. The same fate awaited Egyptian government pages during the Egyptian revolution. Anonymous hactivists have also tried to help working people fighting back in Wisconsin and Spain.

After all this success, Anonymous looks like a partial realisation of Marx's prediction that economic globalisation would require communications channels that would link global working class resistance. But it takes more than online disruption of ruling class order to bring down a government, and even more to bring about an order shaped by working class needs. Unlike WikiLeaks, its leaderless structure makes it impossible to decapitate. On the other hand, the anonymous nature of Anonymous leaves its name open to abuse by ruling class agents and other troublemakers - this must be suspected in the case of the 2008 Epilepsy Foundation forum invasion, and will surely occur more and more as the positive impact of Anonymous increases. The revolution won't be Anonymous, but - to borrow a corporate slogan - 'every little helps'.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Toby Young Protests Too Much Over Anarchism

Toby Young articulates fears of what he calls "the petit bourgeoisie"
Toby Young's recent attack on anarchism probably won't have lost him many friends, but it will have alienated working class people looking for a way to fight a political establishment whose policies are benefiting the author. Scratch the self-deprecating surface, and you get an intellectually bankrupt, arrogant, and yet slightly fearful assertion of his own material interests as "a fully-paid up member of the petit bourgeoisie".

In his article, Young uses various specious arguments to claim that his teenage punk self would have been happy to see the forty-seven year old right wing 'libertarian' argue that "the top rate of tax is too high". Supposedly, this makes him more of an anarchist than the straw man black flag wavers who supported the 30th January public sector strike.

This cloudy thinking is possible when people confuse assertion of self-interest with abstract principles, like anti-statism for example. Of course anarchists almost invariably supported the strikes, because they are almost invariably working class people themselves, and realise the truth in the saying that 'an injury to one is an injury to all'. Indeed, a large percentage work in the public sector.

In one paragraph, Young pretends this is a terrible contradiction. In the next, he acknowledges that there are such things as "collectivist anarchists", who believe that solidarity can create what he cynically describes as "a socialist Jerusalem". But having introduced the s-word, Young then juxtaposes class struggle anarchists with "the Soviet Union and Paul [sic] Pot’s Cambodia". Many readers of this blog will have been drawn to anarchism as a road to that "Jerusalem" precisely because they recognise the tyranny that existed under Lenin, Stalin, and many more 'Communist' dictators. But many of Young's readers will not be aware of these finer points, and so he misleads them, by absurdly conflating collectivist anarchism and the gulag.

But it's far from the first time Young has attacked the radical left. He went for an ad hominem attack in his April Telegraph article Is Penny Red the creation of a brilliant Right-wing satirist? In that piece, he tried to have his cake and eat it by drawing attention to Laurie Penny's relatively privileged upbringing, before admitting that she "can’t be held responsible for the choices her parents’ [sic] made about where to educate her". This much is true, and it doesn't irreparably damage her credibility either - Peter Kropotkin did alright by the international working class despite being born a Russian prince, and such things can happen at times of great social turmoil. But even if Penny (actually from North London) is not the caricature class warrior that Young imagines, that doesn't mean that "the new generation of protesters" is really full of "upper-middle-class Oxford graduates from the home counties".

When working class people do fight to protect their living standards, Young is their enemy - especially when they are teachers angry at the government's promotion of misnamed "free schools" (Young is setting up such a school in West London). When he wrote on the "loony left leaders of the NUT", he drew a false dichotomy between teachers standing up for their own interests, and the interests of children. On what planet are those two things mutually exclusive? Would teachers teach better if they are well paid, or if they were forced to compete against teachers of 'rival' schools? And no Toby, that doesn't mean I'm a supporter of the capitalist state! But I will support those fighting against creeping privatisation, because that always means a deterioration in working class living standards.

Sometimes, right-wingers 'ironically' troll the #solidarity hashtag on Twitter, normally when there is a strike or occupation on. But a quick look at these trolls' bios shows that they are wealthy people - chartered accountants and corporate lawyers - who are scared of a working class fightback. They sense that they live lives of unjustifiable privilege, and fear their luxuries being taken away if the working class organised society in its own interest. They often try to appear less privileged by dressing their bios in self-deprecation, just as @toadmeister - AKA Toby Young - does everywhere he appears online. But come the revolution, Young won't be pitied just because he hasn't got much hair and looks a bit like a toad. Instead, his worth to society will be measured by his words and his deeds.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Southampton Council Workers Await "Armageddon Monday"

A refuse picket line in defiant mood
Southampton council workers are now in the eighth week of a dispute with the local authority, which wants to impose drastic "savings", including pay cuts of up to 5.5% (about ten per cent with inflation), to be followed by a two year wage freeze. Throughout that time, unions have organised a series of rolling strikes, and an estimated two thousand tonnes of rubbish has piled up. However, despite the inconvenience and the corporate media's propaganda war, a poll in the Southern Daily Echo shows that 63% of respondents currently support "the workers", over 37% supporting "the council".

The stakes are high, as it's the first time all employees of one authority have taken action since the coalition government's spending cuts. Southampton is seen as something of a Greece for English councils - a testing ground for "inventive" solutions to budget shortfalls. Another "inventive" council is Shropshire, which this week announced it is sacking all 6,500 workers at the end of September, and will only rehire them if they accept a 5.4% salary cut.

A small section of the refuse backlog caused by pay cuts
The Southampton strikes began back in May, as a response to the Conservative council's plans to 'save four hundred jobs' by drastically cutting the wages of all employees. Refuse workers were the first to strike, but Unison and Unite have announced different industrial actions each week, and are negotiating separately for each sector. Civil enforcement officers, parking wardens, bulk cash collectors struck in May and early June, and were joined by librarians, toll collectors, gas fitters and care workers as the weeks went on. The 'rolling' nature of the strike is the result of union top strategy to minimise the disruption to council services, in the face of such rank and file anger. Though strikers are getting "considerable hardship pay", they are still losing a lot of money, and will soon begin to question whether it is worth carrying on with the current strategy.

The next major flashpoint is next Monday 11th July - dubbed "Armageddon Monday" by workers - when hundreds more are due to walk out, coinciding with the council's deadline to accept their 'deal'. If unions have not reached agreement with the council by then, all the workers could face redundancy. There are signs that the council is shifting its position, as they have agreed to remove the formal pay cut for children's care workers. However, they still face an effective three year pay freeze, and adult care workers - as well as all other council employees - are still looking at the same cuts. Union bureaucrats are preparing to sell out their members, and present any concessions as a major victory, in the hopes that a weary and financially stretched workforce will shrug their shoulders and return to work. Council leaders in Shropshire and around the country will be watching very closely.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The King Blues - Punk & Poetry

"...a generation has finally found its answer to The Clash"
I'm far more stoked about this album than any other released so far this year. Maybe that's partly because I only discovered them about a month ago, when the words "I only follow the mob to lynch the Prime Minister" leaped out at me whilst I was waiting for the inevitable next Foo Fighters track on Kerrang radio. Perhaps I'm still in that first flush of excitement I get whenever I find a new musical accompaniment to my life, so I might be about to say something I'll regret later. But sod it, I can't contain myself. I think a generation has finally found its answer to The Clash.

Not that I would have known it a few weeks back, but this is apparently the same story as Arch Enemy - an already 'political' band inspired to greater focus on the class war by unfolding events. In The King Blues' case - the battle of Millbank and the first stirrings of UK Uncut were hitting the headlines at the time they checked into the studio last November. Other songs - which had been repeatedly tried live - were shelved, as the urgency of now kicked in. The resulting unleashed fury sounds so fresh, real and confident, and the mixture of styles is something profoundly healthy after years of musical stagnation.

Lead vocalist and lyricist Jonny 'Itch' Fox's great strength is his ability to set radical ideas to a form of poetry that will instantly connect with the dispossessed and disenfranchised, whether they are students of literature or have never read anything more wordy than a tabloid. His is a precious talent, and he is ably assisted by five genuinely artistic musicians.

The album opens with Last Of The Dreamers - one of two straight up poems on this release - which sets-up the themes of the next half hour very nicely. In short, if you like this kind of thing, then it's dedicated to you, and everyone like you. Then without further ado we're straight into We Are Fucking Angry, which spits venom at the "vampire blood suckers" in government, over a strident reggae beat (yes, they exist now), and roars that "we are fighting back".

The King Blues "are fucking angry" about the state of the world
But there's no let-up yet, because you're just about to be hit with the catchiest thing since the common cold - Set The World On Fire. "Watch it all burn down/We can start again/Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!". Yes indeed.

After the brief respite of Dancehall, the gorgeous trumpets of The Future's Not What It Used To Be seem to perfectly articulate the disillusionment so many teenagers and twenty-somethings now feel, after their rude political awakening. Then it's radio-friendly summer love song I Want You, except this isn't any old radio-friendly love song. Oh no, Itch wants the object of his affections "like a bully wants to be understood", "like the ghetto needs a new Robin Hood", "like a soldier wants the smell of home" and "like Robson wants Jerome".

5 Bottles of Shampoo is a patriarchy-blaming celebration of women who fight oppression, which segues superbly into Sex Education, an exploration of how healthy sexuality is filtered through the perversions of internet pornography. Then, on the short but sweet ukulele strum of Shooting Fascists, Itch reminds any would-be far rightists listening that their granddads didn't vote for fascists. On the contrary, they shot 'em. 

If Punk & Poetry appears to tail off into lowlights here, it's only because it's fallen from such giddy heights. Does Anybody Care About Us? seems a little contrived, and covers similar ground to The Future's Not What It Used To Be, but it would certainly catch the ear of someone who'd never heard the previous tracks. And Everything Happens For A Reason might be quite unaffecting, but it still shows off Itch's technical lyrical skill.

In general, this is music that could energise you; that could make you feel angry and amazingly happy to be alive all at the same time. I'm impatient to see where The King Blues will go next, but a lot of that depends on what happens in workplaces and on the streets, when the fucking angry of the earth make our next move.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Why the News of the World Scandal Indicts Capitalism

Murdoch's sway over UK politics is legendary
The News Of The World (NotW) telephone hacking scandal threatens to cost the Murdoch media empire millions, as advertisers scurry to distance themselves from a now toxic brand. Furthermore, it has caused great embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron, as the extent of Murdoch's penetration of the state becomes clearer. But perhaps more significant than any of this, the furore is an indictment of the capitalist system itself, and how it twists every profession, not least that of the journalist.

The hacking affair has been rumbling for a few years now, with various politicians and celebrities suing the publication over having their phonecalls monitored. Police 'investigations' have so far proved almost toothless, which is hardly surprising since the police are also embroiled in this controversy, apparently taking payments from David Cameron's former PR guru and ex NotW editor Andy Coulson. Despite Murdoch and co. forcing Coulson's resignation from Cameron's office over the affair in January, the public at large remained largely unconcerned.

This indifference came to an abrupt end on Monday, when a Guardian investigation revealed that "The News of the World illegally targeted the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler and her family in March 2002". Since then, it has come to light that parents of other missing children and relatives of 7/7 bombing victims had also been hacked. This was the final straw. It was one thing to dig for dirt on the rich and powerful, it was quite another to invade the privacy of those who had suffered tragic loss, those whose suffering the paper had loudly trumpeted.

In the case of Milly Dowler, it emerged that the NotW hacker deleted voicemails, leaving space for more. This gave the Dowlers false hope that Milly was still alive, because they assumed she must have been the one doing the deleting.

Only one daily is not splashing on the scandal...
NotW and Murdoch's News International corporation are yet to officially admit the truth of the allegations, but their lack of an outright denial is telling, as more and more players are coming out of the woodwork to put their side of the story. Even the hacker himself, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, has now apologised to "to anybody who was hurt or upset by what I have done".

Like any corporate newspaper, the News of the World exists to serve two purposes. First, it seeks to influence the political debate in directions favoured by its proprietor - in this case Rupert Murdoch. Though it seeks to strike a populist pose, NotW and its sister The Sun are in fact virulently anti-working class, typically seek to divide workers along ethnic, nationalist, gender and claimant/non-claimant lines, the better to conquer them. Second, it tries to sell papers and therefore advertising space. NotW is known for its regular Sunday morning celebrity 'exclusives', such as match fixing amongst Pakistani cricketers, Ryan Giggs' exploits, and the latest in the Cheryl and Ashley Cole story. NotW journalists must use every trick in the book to get its hands on such stories, and indeed Mulcaire has spoken of the "constant demand for results".

Yet every newspaper is subject to exactly the same pressures, in a dwindling but highly competitive market. Murdoch merely acted to introduce a lowest common denominator, a barrel-scraping standard against which all other papers must measure themselves. Respected socialist journalist John Pilger calls Murdoch's effect a kind of "cultural Chernobyl", but if it hadn't been Murdoch, it would have been someone else. The decay of capitalism called for Murdoch's brand of 'news', and it would be a huge shock if other papers had been foolish enough not to hack into the phones of people in the public eye.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How Subversive is Radical Graffiti?

The scene at the Liscard branch of HSBC
Over the weekend, banks in a Wallasey shopping centre were targeted by a demonstrator or demonstrators, who sprayed graffiti on the outside walls. As Wallasey was my home town until I moved down south last year, I want to use this opportunity to look at the significance of radical graffiti.

The banks in question were all located in the Liscard area of the town, so people from the run-down terraces of Seacombe to the slightly more affluent Wallasey Village will have seen the graffiti. A circled A symbol of anarchism was sprayed on the HSBC at a busy set of traffic lights, along with the words "Fuck the rich - class war". Spanish bank Santander was even redecorated with a Spanish language invitation to anarchist revolution.

Though no individual or group has publicly claimed responsibility for the action, it can be guessed that the banks were attacked because of their role in the pain working class people face, in the wake of the banker bailout. This will not be lost on many of those passing the messages, and indeed a large number will share in the anti-banker sentiment expressed.

Its political significance is therefore very obvious. Someone - who presumably self-identifies as an anarchist - has decided to use public hatred of the bankers as a propaganda tool, as a means of promoting a working class fightback against the rich. With many people sinking further into the financial mire as a direct result of the bailout and government austerity measures, this is not surprising. But will it have the desired effect? Will the graffiti stir the oppressed of Liscard into rebellion? My answer is a qualified 'no'.

Graffiti is illegal, though ruling class propaganda is everywhere
Back in April, I posted on the 'propaganda by the deed' debate, which has raged within anarchism since the mid 1800s. Talking about 'violence' against symbols of wealth on the March 26th London demonstrations, I argued that it made sense to apply the criteria suggested by Alexander Berkman - the Russian anarchist who was jailed for shooting a steel boss. A changed man, he later commented that the assassination of US president William McKinley was "inevitable" as "as an expression of personal revolt", and "in itself an indictment of existing conditions". However, it was not "educational", because "because the social necessity for its performance was not manifest".

The context was also lacking in the case of the Liscard graffiti. Yes, the bankers are despised, but for most of those who will have seen the graffiti, the "class war" is a thoroughly one-sided affair, so few will have any idea what the sprayer wants them to do. Over the three decades since the Thatcher counter-revolution began, the phrase has almost entirely lost its meaning. What's more, 'anarchy' is still synonymous with 'chaos' - a misconception the graffiti does little to dispel.

On the other hand, it could certainly be said that radical graffiti can contribute to a 'culture of resistance' - where organised resistance exists. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the graffiti was a temporary territory marker, which probably led some to think 'So I'm not the only one who blames the rich for the way things are going', in an era when ruling class propaganda consistently targets the poorest.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Robot Ed Miliband and the Death of Parliamentary Politics

Ever get the feeling someone's not listening to what you're saying?
On Tuesday he announced that he disapproved of union plans to strike over government raids on public sector pension schemes. Today, Labour leader Ed Miliband has become an internet sensation, thanks to a robotic 'interview' he gave Damon Green of ITV News. There was something funny about Miliband's performance, but it also points to the continuing decay of parliamentary politics - in the UK and the rest of the world. Ultimately, this putrefaction can only lead to totalitarianism.

It could almost have been a scene from The Thick Of It - Armando Iannucci's smart satire about the machinations of the Westminster world, but no, it was real. Miliband's PR people had arranged that he'd be shown "in front of his bookcase, with his family photos over his left shoulder." But they'd also clearly told him his line, and he had to stick to it. Too obviously right wing, and it would alienate any on the Labour left still holding out any forlorn hope in 'Red Ed' making an appearance. Too respectful of the strike, and The Sun would hammer him the next day. No, there was only thing he could say. And he said it again. And again. And again.

In Damon Green's words:
"Ed Miliband thinks that the strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are still underway. The government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner, but it is time for both sides to set aside the rhetoric and get around the negotiating table and stop this from happening again.

I know this because he told me six times."
No matter how Green phrased his questions, Militron came up with almost exactly the same words in reply. Even when asked if the negotiations between government and unions were being carried out "in good faith", or if he'd expressed his view "on a personal level", the son of Marxist academic Ralph Miliband still trotted out his soundbite.

Green was understandably furious about being used in this way, and Tweeted a long condemnation of Miliband:
"If news reporters and cameras are only there to be used by politicians as recording devices for their scripted soundbites, at best that is a professional discourtesy. At worst, if we are not allowed to explore and examine a politician’s views, then politicians cease to be accountable in the most obvious way."
"we can expect the ruling class parties to...combine as a totalitarian force"
Here, Green hit the nail on the head. After three decades of decay in parliamentary politics - which the likes of Iannucci have lampooned so well - there is no real difference between the Conservatives, their Liberal coalition partners, and the Labour 'Opposition'. There is, therefore, no way to hold them to account within the parliamentary system. All parties agree on the central question of post-2008 politics - that the financial sector should be bailed out, and that the working class should have their living conditions dragged back to the 1930s in order to pay for it. Aside from that, there can only be nuance. Largely because Ed Miliband became Labour leader thanks to a union votes, and the fact that many unions still donate large sums to the Labour Party, he knows he can't totally condemn them. So he has to string them along, pretending that he thinks the Tories share some of the responsibility for any disruption.

When the working class finally does get politically organised, and unites around opposition to both the cuts and the capitalist system itself, we can expect the ruling class parties to bury the hatchet, agree to agree, and combine as a totalitarian force, to 'save the country' or somesuch con-trick. Miliband's broken record is just the worst example of a process that has been underway for a long time.

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